Malaysia may not need to attain Covid-19 herd immunity to call next election: Minister

Malaysia aims to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year at the earliest by inoculating 80 per cent of its population.
Malaysia aims to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year at the earliest by inoculating 80 per cent of its population.PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Attaining herd immunity may not be necessary for Malaysia to hold its next general election, Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Wednesday (April 7).

"I don't think we have to reach herd immunity before we are comfortable to have elections.

"As long as the case numbers drop, a lot of people are vaccinated, even if it's not cutting transmission, even if we are not at herd immunity, the worst outcomes of Covid-19 are prevented for a large number of the Malaysian population, then it will be safe to have elections," he said at the Asean Healthcare Webinar 2021.

"If you are waiting for zero cases for weeks on end, that might be impossible."

Mr Khairy, the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, said even the top healthcare experts in the country cannot predict or define when it is safe to declare the disease as completely over.

Dr Khor Swee Kheng, who is a health systems and policies specialist, said there is a possibility that the Covid-19 virus could exist in the world "indefinitely".

"It is also possible that even when you achieve the 80 per cent vaccination coverage, you have to revaccinate the population," said Dr Khor, who is also a panellist at the webinar.

Malaysia's general election, which was last held in May 2018, isn't due until 2023, but is widely expected to be called this year due to weak support for the Perikatan Nasional government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Meanwhile, on the persistent fears surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccines, Mr Khairy said there was still more time before they arrive in Malaysia.

He is also Malaysia's coordinating minister for immunisation.

"How we assess vaccines is by observing what is happening in other parts of the world, especially with regards to adverse events.

"We had a committee meeting to discuss this. The vaccines are coming in May from the Covax facility, so we have a bit of time to decide whether or not to go through with this."

He added: "We can decide then whether we can go ahead with it (after the report comes out)."

He also said that a sub-committee has been set up to determine which segments or groups of economic front-liners would be prioritised for vaccination.

The criteria for judging whether such groups are prioritised would be based on factors such as the economic impact of that sector and whether their employees are typically working in a crowded, physically enclosed environment.

Malaysia aims to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year at the earliest by inoculating 80 per cent of its population, or 26.7 million people.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin last week mooted allowing fully vaccinated individuals to cross state lines in Malaysia, and also travel abroad, to incentivise people to get vaccinated. Malaysia's interstate travel ban has been in place since January, and its international borders have remain closed since March last year.